How widely does Kindle's garden really grow?

How widely does Kindle's garden really grow?

This story was originally written as a walkup to our #FutureChat of 6 March. Join The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community each Friday for #FutureChat at 4 p.m. London (GMT), 5 p.m. Rome, 11 a.m. New York, 8 a.m. Los Angeles.

We know what Kindle can do for a single title.

It was the Kindle Daily Deal for [Gail Carriger's] Etiquette & Espionage that happened last week. Thousands and thousands of ebook copies sold during a short period of time. As we can now see from yesterday’s news, it was enough to propel the whole "Finishing School" series onto the New York Times list. 

That's literary agent Kristin Nelson in The Power of a Kindle Daily Deal, a post marking the 35th time that one of her clients' titles has shown up on the Times' lists.

That kind of Kindle kick, we get. Authors will run down the street for it, and rightly so. Seattle-driven promotion on the most successful family of e-reading devices can make you the prize rose bush in one big, big, big walled garden. We're out to take nothing away from that kind of commercial reach into the pockets of those Primed for consumerism.

But here is our good colleague Philip Jones, The Bookseller's editor, in his Tuesday column for The FutureBook, Around the world in 80 ways:

Amazon’s Kindle store-fronts now operate in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Japan, France, Holland, and Spain. But it is not always able to make the same offer in each of these sectors. In Australia, for example, it shows 3m Kindle books, and in Mexico lists 2.5m English-language titles alongside 120,000 Spanish titles. But in France only 145,000 local-language books are offered, while in Holland it has just 23,000 Dutch titles versus 2.7m in English.

Jones is calling on us to think again:

We expect Amazon to be in the lead wherever it lands, but in some regions it has been matched by Kobo, Apple, or other strong local players, such as Tolino in Germany. 

Speaking of Tolino, just a week ago, Publishing Perspectives' Edward Nawotka ran comments from the MVB's Ronald Schild. Nawotka's intro to In Germany: eBooks Less Than 10% of Market, Tolino Grows, spells out the kind of confusion that can bedevil analysts. Tolino is, as Nawotka reminds us, "an ebook retailer formed through an alliance between German booksellers Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Club Bertelsmann, wholesaler Libri, and Deutschen Telekom AG."

And Nawotka writes:

Last November, market research group GfK offered data that indicated Germany’s homegrown e-book platform Tolino had in the third quarter of 2014 overtaken Amazon in market share. Many raised eyebrows, particularly in Germany, where numerous publishers indicate that Amazon is still selling as much as three times as many books as Tolino. The general consensus suggests that Amazon has an ebook market share of 50-60%, 15-20% for Tolino, with Apple at 10%.

Schild, in his own commentary, gets right to it: Not for nothing has the Tolino jumped borders quickly from its native Germany.

The investment in the infrastructure is tremendous. It makes sense to capitalize your investments by going international very quickly: [Tolino has] also moved Poland, Holland and Italy. It is a clear strategy to cover as much territory as possible.

And Schild sees, he writes, two key challenges to Tolino's progress. 

One is the transition from e-readers to the reading habits move on...toward reading on tablets and smartphones, the loyalty to a specific brand becomes hard to sustain when you can buy from Apple, Google, Amazon or Tolino....The second big challenge is the move by Kindle to offer subscription bundles of different media, which they already do with children’s content, and if that proves to be a valid offering sought after by the customers, it will be hard for Tolino to compete.

For his part, Jones is parsing the progress of Puget Sound, and on a wider scale, the terrain may be bumpy for Tolino but it's no walk through the park for Amazon, either:

In Italy, according to consultant Marcello Vena, Amazon has 50% of the €40m e-book market; in Brazil, according to journalist Carlo Carrenho, Amazon is only narrowly ahead of Apple, and local player Saraiva. In Scandinavia, where there are large numbers of English-language readers, Amazon is still readying to launch officially, but is being outgunned by local operators such as Mofibo (a Danish-based subscriptions company).

In short, Jones is showing us, the ride to the multi-national top of the world's growing ebook culture is not accomplished by one breast-beating swing on the vine from Mercer and Thomas Streets. 

In 2011 Evan Schnittman said that you know you have a robust e-book market when the Kindle lands in your region...But I wonder now whether this view might be increasingly off the mark. That the global e-book market in its somewhat ramshackle development might at last be showing signs of general health with more local players taking advantage of being able to build their businesses gradually.

He cites the overview that Vancouver-based Thad McIlroy gave us last month, Tapping into the international digital book market opportunity, McIlroy writing:

The primary international distribution mechanisms are in place: Amazon and Apple have bookstores in twelve countries and “51 territories” respectively. Kobo says that it now sells ebooks in more than 190 countries, and has localized stores in Canada, the US, Brazil, France, the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, South America, India, and Japan.  

And Jones looks at indications of slow growth on the widest European scale.

Per the work of consultant and Klopotek Publishers Forum director Rüdiger Wischenbart in the annual Global eBook Report, we find Jones writing:

eBook growth has continued to be very limited all across continental (non-English) European markets, with a “flattening out” at very low levels. He blames a variety of reasons: from fixed prices, to piracy, to VAT.

Jones' point is well taken. Even the digital dynamic cannot be depended on for a clear line forward. 

And, to the surprise of some who may have bowed quickly to the progress of the Kindle in the rise of digital reading, none of these roads is without twists and turns. 

It is no longer true that when Kindle lands in your region it is a signal of a robust e-book market: in some of these areas Amazon has not kick-started the market. But neither is it true that Amazon is the first requirement to having a robust e-book market. The experience in Scandinavia suggest that e-book markets can form around local players as consumers acquire content differently and read across a range of devices, not just e-readers.


Join us today (6th March) and each Friday for #FutureChat with The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community at 4 p.m. London (GMT), 5 p.m. Rome, 11 a.m. New York, 8 a.m. Los Angeles.

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